German online travel group Unister relaunches sale, say sources-Reuters

(Reuters) – German online travel group Unister Travel has attracted first round bids from buyout groups in a potential 700 million to 1 billion euro ($877 million-$1.25 billion) deal, after legal problems delayed an earlier sale attempt, people familiar with the matter said.

The sale was initially launched earlier this year, but stalled after prosecutors charged the group’s founder Thomas Wagner and four other managers with tax fraud, unauthorised sale of financial products and violation of competition rules following raids of Unister’s offices.

Law firm Hengeler Mueller has compiled a legal report that will be made available to the bidders in the second round of the auction, the sources said.

Jefferies is advising Unister Holding, held by its founders, on the sale of the unit, which runs German travel sites such as flight booking platform fluege.de and package travel site ab-in-den-urlaub.de. It sent out information packages to potential bidders in October.

Leipzig-based Unister Holding also has internet price comparison sites such as shopping.de, geld.de and online used-car market auto.de and has run advertising campaigns with celebrities such as German soccer star Michael Ballack.

It was not available for comment, while Jefferies and Hengeler Mueller declined to comment.

Buyout groups such as Hellman & Friedman — which backs internet peer Scout24 — as well as Silver Lake, EQT and KKR earlier this week handed in tentative bids as they aim to tap into a market expected to grow by 5 percent annually over the next 5 years, the sources said.

Media groups such as Prosieben have also expressed an interest.

The companies declined to comment, apart from Prosieben and Silver Lake, which were not immediately available.

Unister may fetch 700 million euros, one of the sources said, while another saw a valuation closer to 1 billion euros.

Unister, which employs 1,700 staff, is expecting to post a 65 percent rise in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to more than 90 million euros this year, on gross revenues of more than 2 billion euros.

Two people familiar with some of the bidders said the earnings jump was in part achieved by a change in accounting methods, adding their estimates for underlying earnings was closer to 70 million euros.

Spanish peer eDreams Odigeo trades at a multiple of 5 times its expected core earnings.